Spending in Washington and the national debt has been a hot topic during this election year. And with federal cuts looming, programs funded by Uncle Sam are making their pitch for survival.
One of those programs is used throughout the state to help kids overcome hurdles to college. For some students, going to college has practically been a given since childhood. But for others it hasn't.
"I never really thought about college that way until the Upward Bound program kind of was like ‘you have so many opportunities,’" NSU student Megan Pushor said.
"I was kind of lazy in high school. I just thought I didn't have to do stuff. And Upward Bound was there to light that fire under me and it just helped a lot," NSU student Tyler Sandve said.
Upward Bound is one part of a federally funded college opportunity program called TRIO. It serves students in high school and college whose families meet income qualifications or whose parents haven't earned a four-year college degree. It also serves students with disabilities.
"Some of those services include individual academic advising. We do a lot of goal planning. We look at students' strengths and talents and try to help them match that to a future career," TRIO employee Britt Lorenz said.
The program offers several other services as well that steer high school students to college and keep college students on track courtesy of the federal government.
Lorenz works with a program based out of Northern State University in Aberdeen.
"We just have to put ourselves out there to show that we really are effective," TRIO employee Phil Coghlan said.
And at this point the federal government may cut TRIO's budget by more than eight percent. And people in the program won’t know until January.
Leaders of the program in Aberdeen say they understand the country is spending more than it's bringing in so eventually something does have to give.
"Everyone is really conscious of that across the country. You can't continue to operate in the red zone so much. But it's also important to look at the services provided, the needs of our citizens and how we're meeting those," Lorenz said.
TRIO serves between 2,000 and 3,000 students in South Dakota through seven colleges and universities including public, private and tribal institutions.
In all, those institutions bring in about $4 million in federal funding for the program. Lorenz's argument to keep that money coming lies in the program's effectiveness and the need. At NSU, about 80 percent of the students qualify.
"Certainly if we're seeing that need in a small area such as South Dakota, nationwide it's just as large," Lorenz said.
So they're working to keep their budget off the federal chopping block as other programs do the same.
Sandve and Pushor join them in hoping cuts don't come. They were in a TRIO program in high school, now in college and they've both taken a leadership role in it too.
"This is a great thing, great thing for everybody," Sandve said.
"I feel like it wouldn't just affect us. I feel like it could affect the economy and everything like that because there is a really high percentage of us that go through college and make it out and go into the workforce," Pushor said.
Program leaders say the need already exceeds the funding. While 80 percent of Northern students qualify, there are only enough spots for 165 participants.
Eye on KELOLAND